“The Immortal: Demon in the Blood” is a new series by Dark Horse Comics based on the Japanese novel “Ura-Enma.” The story is set in the mid-1800’s in the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate government and follows a disgraced Samurai, Amane Ichinose, who is mortally wounded by his own clan. Ichinose is saved by an old tattoo artist who uses his craft to imbue Ichinose with the spirit of a demon that makes him almost unkillable.
The first striking thing about the inaugural issue of “The Immortal: Demon in the Blood,” and also its greatest strength as a comic, is the construction of the images. While the artwork itself isn’t terribly unique, every panel’s contents are deliberately framed to set the tone and the themes of the story. The penciller Vicenc Villagrasa conveys which elements of the plot are supernatural by skewing the angles of certain images to make them vaguely unsettling. The panel construction conveys a consistent, creepy vibe in a way that’s refreshingly subtle compared to other recent comics.
The issue does have some problems that are common in origin stories. The Immortal #1 is a single issue comic that has to has to lay out all the ground rules for both an unusual setting in transition-era Japan and an unfamiliar lure to an American audience in these demon tattoos and how they work. It’s not like writer Ian Edginton’s most well known venture, the Sherlock Holmes zombie story “Victorian Undead,” where all the elements are so familiar that an American reader can jump right in.
The Immortal is aware of the uncharted nature of its subject matter, and as a result spends much more focus on explaining what exactly everything is than it does on developing characters. After the first issue, the reader understands the elements of the setting well enough. But if Ichinose or any of the characters that appear in the comic have definable personality traits, they will have to wait until issue two. The Immortal’s vision of 19th century Japan is the only character really shown at the start.
If the comic could only pick one character to use as a hook for the reader, the setting was a good choice. The Immortal promises a quasi-steam-punk creepy fantasy and revenge story that has some definite appeal. And the aforementioned highly-effective art direction makes the first issue, at least, a solid proof of concept for the rest of the series.
As a new series, it’s difficult to find comparative grounding for The Immortal. The fact that the opening issue has such a strong focus on establishing the setting is similar to a series like Lone Wolf and Cub, but that’s not a terribly fair comparison. While Lone Wolf and Cub distinguishes itself by using a theme-appropriate and rarely seen art style, The Immortal uses a rather common art style with unusual frame composition. Also, the first issue of The Immortal does make some attempt to establish character back story, rather than opening with a history lesson. The effort is just not enough to give a strong sense of any one character’s personality.
The most similar series running right now would be other Dark Horse venture Usagi Yojimbo, but its still difficult to classify the titles as having the same type of story. In fact, an easy to overlook selling point of The Immortal for some of the more jaded readers is that there isn’t a whole lot out there exactly like it.
Overall, the first issue of “The Immortal: Demon in the Blood” is a very pretty comic, and those who are interested in some of the more subtle methods of comic book storytelling will appreciate it. The issue is also worth a read to some more casual, or perhaps less dorky, comic book fans just because it is the start of a series that has a lot of potential.
The Immortal is currently available for pre-order and will release December 21st. For more information see the Official Page.